Breathe

When was the last time you noticed your breath? Was it because it was colder and you could see it? Were you running and struggling to catch it? Or was it simply because you stopped and noticed it? 

Many of us go throughout our days without taking notice of our breath. It’s one of the primary forces that keeps us alive, and we miss the opportunity to check-in to see how it is affecting our body. 

Anxiety can creep up in moments when we are least expecting; forcing us into a state of increased heart rate and difficulty breathing. No matter how hard we try or how many self-help books we read, we can’t just get rid of anxiety. It’s a part of what makes us human. 

But it becomes debilitating when it creeps in, takes hold of our emotions, and forces us into an unequal state. 

We can’t completely rid ourselves of anxiety, but we can change our relationship to it. It is a balance trying to figure out how to move yourself from anxiety to peace, back to anxiety and then back to peace. It’s a never ending dance. It’s a discovery of what makes you tick and what allows you to be calm. 

My goal here is not to give you a formula on how to get back to a state of peace sooner. Rather, my hope is to provide you with one tool that has provided me with a sense of groundedness in times of perceived inner-chaos. 

About 5 months ago I started to become more consistent in my yoga and mediation practice. I could go on and on about both of these practices, but for now I want to elaborate on one key aspect that both of these focus on: the breath. 

When I first started doing yoga, I was so terrified that I was doing the poses wrong that I hardly listened to the instructor say “inhale leg rise, exhale leg comes forward.” I was completely missing the most essential part of yoga: the breath. Once I learned the importance of the breath, I began to see immense changes not only in my yoga practice, but in my overall mental state. 

Meditation was suggested to me by my counselor a little over a year ago. However, I recently became way more consistent and exploratory with my practice. I began eating up information about it and researched different YouTube guided meditations by Ram Dass and Sharon Salzberg. Every meditation I have done has a focus on the breath. Whether you are counting the breath, or creating a mantra with every breath, meditation is full of focus on the breath. 

This new-found information about breathing has changed the way I think about anxiety. 

These two practices have subconsciously caused me to focus on the breath while I am going throughout the busiest parts of my day. But when I find myself getting anxious, I fight to really bring myself back to the breath. One practice I learned recently came from a Sharon Salzberg meditation. She explained that when we inhale, our heart rate automatically increases, and when we exhale it decreases. If we are in a hyper anxious state and want to slow our heart rate down, we need to double our exhale. For example, inhale on the count of 1, 2; exhale on the count of 1, 2, 3, 4. If you focus on the breath in this way, you will force your heart rate to decrease and bring yourself back to a renewed awareness. 

Recently I was in what felt like days of constant anxiety. My husband went out of town for the first time since we have been married and I allowed myself to go down a path of worst case scenarios. What if he got hurt? What if something happened to him and I couldn’t be there to help it? I know, awful stuff, but this is how my brain works sometimes. The minute he left, I went straight to yoga to hopefully distract and calm myself down. The instructor started the class with a meditation that forced us into a state of awareness on the breath. As she was guiding us, I realized how tense and uncomfortable I had made myself. The anxiety felt uncontrollable, but the breath reminded me that I do have power. I sat there on my mat, teary-eyed and amazed how my mind changed to a state of awareness. 

A lack of control can trigger us into anxiety. But what if we turned to one thing we can control: our breath. When we breathe with intention, we remind ourselves the truth of our humanity. We are alive. And we are okay.

Pause here. Feel your feet on the floor beneath you. How is your breath? Inhale: You are strong. You are powerful. Exhale: You are weak. You are not good enough. Do this ten times with either eyes closed or softly focused on something in front of you. 

As you go throughout your day, bring yourself back to this feeling. The feeling of slowing down and recognizing the beauty of your breath. 

Elyssa Schultheiss